India Before Modi

How the BJP Came to Power

September 2021 9781787385375 400pp
Available as an eBook
EU Customers


Narendra Modi has been a hundred years in the making, and this book provides the backstory. It begins with the creation of Hindu nationalism, moves on to the 1980 formation of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and ends with its first national administration, from 1998 to 2004. By revisiting these events, we can trace the Modi government’s current dominance of Indian politics all the way back to its origins.

Vinay Sitapati follows this journey through the entangled lives of the party’s founding fathers: Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani. Over their six-decade-long relationship, Vajpayee and Advani worked as a team, despite differences in personality and beliefs. Bound together by RSS discipline and shared ambition–for a Hinduised Indian polity– their partnership explains the nature of the BJP before Modi, and why it won power.

In supporting roles are a colourful cast of characters, from the warden’s wife who made room for Vajpayee in her family to the billionaire grandson of Pakistan’s founder, who happened to be a major early BJP benefactor. Based on private papers, party documents, newspapers and over 200 interviews, this is a must-read for all those interested in the Hindu nationalist ideology that now rules India.


‘Sitapati’s book is a wonderful read – like a fast-paced novel. The dramatis personae come alive on the page… [Readers] will relish the lively political storytelling, and learn a great deal about today’s Indian political scene.’ — Survival

India Before Modi is a thoroughly researched and engrossing book. It is a triple treat. It provides a riveting dual biography of Vajpayee and Advani, an indispensable guide to the long arc of Hindu Nationalism, and an insightful take on the making of modern India. It is a considerable achievement.’– Pratap Bhanu Mehta, former president of the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi-and Vice-Chancellor of Ashoka University, 2017 to 2019

‘An illuminating and fluent narrative that charts the rise of the BJP: a story, as Vinay Sitapati tells it, which had less to do with grandiose ideology, more with a canny understanding and ruthless manipulation of electoral politics by the party’s two founding shapers, A.B. Vajpayee and L.K. Advani. Sitapati’s account reveals the BJP’s impressive investment in winning power by electoral means — and the equally impressive vacuum at the movement’s heart, when it came to the exercise of democratic power.’ — Sunil Khilnani, Professor of Politics and History, Ashoka University, author of Incarnations: A History of India in Fifty Lives

‘A masterful storyteller and brilliant scholar, Sitapati delivers a truly insightful account of contemporary Indian politics and the characters that have shaped it …. there is much to learn and to argue within this book. An absolute must-read.’ — Yamini Aiyar, President and Chief Executive, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi

‘This is a masterly study: well researched; clearly written; and full of rich insights. It is essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the origins of the BJP and the shape of contemporary Indian politics.’ — Atul Kohli, David K.E. Bruce Professor of International Affairs, Princeton University

‘Sitapati once again highlights the crucial role of individuals in explaining big political outcomes, this time through his deeply researched study of the long partnership of Vajpayee and Advani in the rise of the BJP. … Especially now, when their successors Narendra Modi and Amit Shah dominate both the BJP and India’s political scene, this focus on how individual character, talents and strategy make political power is especially welcome.’ — Steven Wilkinson, Nilekani Professor of India and South Asia, Yale University


Vinay Sitapati is Assistant Professor of Political Science and Legal Studies at Ashoka University. He holds degrees from the National Law School Bangalore and Harvard, and a Politics PhD from Princeton. His first book, a bestselling biography of Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, was an Economist Book of the Year.

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